By Joseph G. Hattersley, M.A., Well Being Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3.
Federal regulations require chlorine treatment of the water supplied to urban/suburban areas of the U.S. and much of Canada from surface sources such as lakes, reservoirs and rivers. That constitutes about 75 percent of the water that Americans consume. Water from underground sources generally is not chlorinated unless it is supplemented by surface water.
Chlorination is inferior water treatment on at least two counts. Although it has greatly lowered the incidence of infectious waterborne diseases in the U.S. and Canada, chlorination fails against a variety of water problems, including parasites—and it can seriously harm people who use the water. A public notice recently issued in Washington, D.C., warned that a high level of bacteria in the [chlorinated, fluoridated] city system water made it unsafe for dialysis patients, AIDS patients, organ transplant patients, the elderly and infants.
The cost of chlorination is unnecessarily high. As of 1996, Andover, Massachusetts’ new ozone treatment cost $83 per million gallons of purified water, only two-thirds as much as the chlorine treatment process. The town saved $64,000 annually in chemical costs alone and used less electricity.
Chlorine Chemical background
Highly reactive chlorine is an industrial waste product that is profitably disposed of by use in water treatment, where it impacts people’s health and then passes on into the environment (other wastes are mercury from dental amalgams, fluoride and other chemicals disposed of into the atmosphere and drinking water). Chlorine oxidizes lipid contaminants in the water and thus creates oxysterols; these form when lipid and oxygen molecules combine. Chlorine also forms free radicals (highly reactive atomic or sub-atomic particles lacking an electron).
To function we require moderate numbers of both free radicals and oxysterols. The immune system employs free radicals to kill cells that its cellular immune mechanism can’t handle. A second mechanism using free radicals initiates programmed cell suicide known as apoptosis. Also moderate quantities of oxysterols, like cholesterol itself, serve a protective function. Excess free radicals and excess oxysterols, however, damage arteries and initiate cancer, among many other kinds of harm.
How Chlorine in Water Causes Problems
Chlorine in the water we drink destroys protective acidophilus in our digestive system; acidophilus nourishes and cooperates with the 3 to 3½ pounds of immunity-strengthening “friendly” organisms lining the colon, where about 60 percent of our immune cells operate. Further, chlorine combines with organic impurities in the water to make trihalomethanes (THMs), or chloramines. The more organic matter, the more THMs, and, like excess oxysterols, they are carcinogens.
Industrial chemist J. P. Bercz, Ph.D., in addition, revealed in 1992 that chlorinated water alters and destroys unsaturated essential fatty acids (EFAs). Those are the building blocks of people’s brains and central nervous systems. The compound hypochlorite, created when chlorine mixes with water, generates excess free radicals; these oxidize EFAs, turning them rancid.
Most Western diets contain very little of the critically needed omega-3 EFAs. These are found in fish oil and, better, in flaxseed oil and cod liver oil, and in moderate quantity in extra-virgin olive oil. Omega-3 and omega-5 EFAs, except those in olive oil and cod liver oil, go rancid quickly. To extend the shelf life of their oils, many food processors remove all health-promoting EFAs, as well as destroying or discarding most needed micronutrients. Then they restore small quantities of some of the cheapest available nutrients and call their food products “enriched.” (Be cautious, as some food processors still substitute partially hydrogenated trans, or transformed, fats. Found in most all boxed and packaged foods that have lists of hard-to-pronounce chemical names on the side, trans fatty acids consumed in large quantity can cause heart attacks and many other degenerative diseases.)
Back to THMs: Among the THMs that result from chlorine combining with organic compounds in water are carcinogenic chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. It is the combination of chlorine and organic materials already in the water that produces cancer-causing byproducts. The more organic matter in the water, the greater is the accumulation of THMs.
In a study of more than 5,000 pregnant women in the Fontana, Walnut Creek and Santa Clara areas of California, researchers from the state health department found that pregnant women who drank more than five glasses a day of tap water containing over 75 parts per billion of THMs had a 9.5 percent risk of spontaneous abortion, i.e., miscarriage. Women with less exposure to the contaminants showed 5.7 percent risk; no comparison was given for women who ingested no THMs.
The print edition of Vol. 15, No.3, May/June 2006 is no longer available. Digital version is available here.